The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday approved a 2016 budget that keeps police and fire staffing at the same levels, continues to rebuild the city's worst streets and maintains library hours that were extended earlier this year.
With its unanimous vote, the council approved a $546 million total budget that increases the city's property tax levy by 1.9 percent and closely aligns with the spending plan Mayor Chris Coleman proposed in August.
The general fund budget is $257.5 million, up $8.1 million over 2015. Public Works makes up nearly 25 percent of the budget, but public safety comprises the largest share of the budget, with the police department making up 19.5 percent and the fire department 12 percent.
The city will have the same number of police officers as this year, 615, as will the Fire Department with average daily staffing of 114.
"I think it represents another year of fiscal stability and sound management," Coleman said immediately after the council's vote. "This is not a budget of one-time fixes. We are continuing the work begun last year.
"To me, that's stability — our residents being able to count on certain things being there."
The City Council did commit to a few things of its own, including:
• Funding to continue the Youth Ambassadors Program, a partnership between police and local youth workers to reduce juvenile crime. The program has been credited with a 63 percent drop in juvenile arrests in neighborhoods where Ambassadors were working.
• Funding for a Safe Routes to School pilot program, to make it safer for children to walk and bike to school. The program is a partnership with the St. Paul Public Schools and St. Paul Ramsey County Public Health.
• Working with the Public Works Department and the mayor's office to pursue organized trash collection.
In addition, the council agreed to continue funding the Right Track youth jobs program and the St. Paul Fire Department's EMS Academy.
"The city's 2016 budget is first and foremost about maintaining quality services at a reasonable price," said Council President Russ Stark. "New investments in neighborhood commercial zones, maintaining expanded library hours and continuing to invest in street reconstruction and modernization will ensure that the city continues moving in a positive direction."
In addition to continuing the expanded library hours implemented this year, the council will mark the start in 2016 of a Library Challenge Initiative. The program, to be implemented during the 2016-2017 school year in a partnership with the St. Paul Public Schools, aims to put a library card into the hands of every St. Paul child by the end of 2017.
New initiatives include a victim/witness advocate in the city attorney's office, and capital improvements will include the completed expansion of Fire Station 19 and a new Police Training Facility.
When asked what in this budget he would consider sexy, Coleman said: "I think stability is sexy."